Picking an affordable, easy dinner has become an elementary decision for the Voorheesville school community.
Two weeks ago, Voorheesville Central School District opened its doors and kitchen to the community through a new “Meals to go” dinner program, which is aimed at keeping its school lunch program in the black.
Tim Mulligan, chef and district cook manager, is cooking up some of his favorite meals, including chicken Marsala as the debut dish, for anyone to purchase and take home. Meals are generally scheduled to be sold every other Wednesday from the high school cafeteria, which is now known as the Blackbird Café. The second offering will be on Oct. 2 and on Oct. 16, a chicken or shrimp penne is on the menu.
“It is something we have been thinking about for a couple of years,” Mulligan said. “It is just an extra way of putting some income into the school lunch fund.”
Mulligan has a background outside of the district in serving large-scale meals as a banquet chef at the Empire State Plaza for 12 years. He also previously operated his own restaurants.
While serving dinner from a school cafeteria is unique, for Mulligan it was a practical solution to help keep the district’s lunch program afloat.
“I don’t know what other school districts are going to try to do … but this is just me cooking the meals and it is fun cooking,” he said. “Any money we make is better than not making money.”
Voorheesville dropped new federal lunch guidelines after less than six months following the program. Other local districts have followed suit – Bethlehem dropped the guidelines at its high school and Niskayuna dropped from the federal program on the heels of Voorheesville.
Mulligan petitioned the Board of Education to drop the federal program, along with the extra funding tat comes with it, after seeing lunch lines shortening and food waste piling up.
“Our participation rate dropped almost in half,” Mulligan said, “but what really got me was the amount of food these kids were throwing out that we were forced to put on their plates. … It was absolutely killing me.”
To prove his point to district administrators and the board, he saved up food waste from one day. In fruit alone, students passed up three boxes worth of food that could not be donated and was worth $180.
Ironically, Mulligan said, “When we are not forcing kids to take the fruit, they take the fruit.”
Mulligan said getting older students at high school to eat certain meals is difficult because their eating habits and patterns are more established. For elementary school students, Mulligan tries to “stick close” to the federal guidelines.
The meals he chose were things he likes to cook and he “threw them on there to see how they would go.” So far, the program appears to be going well.
“The first night was totally a hit,” he said. “I thought we were going to do 25 meals to go for (four people) and we did 60-something. It was totally shocking to me and I was very pleased with everything, and I hope the community is pleased with what they got.”
Meals to go are offered in serving sizes for two people for $15 and four people for $25. Reservations are required and must be made 24 hours in advance.
Reservations and payments can be arranged by contacting Christy Rivenburg at [email protected] or through www.instantseats.com. At InstantSeats, type “Voorheesville” in the search bar at the top left corner of the website. There is a website service charge of $2.38 for a meal for four and $1.89 for a two-person meal.
Mulligan said people with bad memories of school cafeteria food should give the meals a chance before passing judgment.
“They would probably be surprised by the quality they would get out of the school,” he said.
The meal scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 16, includes chicken or shrimp tossed in a light flavored cream sauce served over penne pasta, with Caesar salad and breadsticks. The following meal on Wednesday, Oct. 30, is scheduled to be a half-pan of mixed green salad with choice of steak, chicken or shrimp, with dressing served on the side and breadsticks. Pick up is scheduled from 4 to 6:30 p.m.
For a complete menu, visit the district’s website, or click the document embedded earlier in this story to download it.